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Lessons on Geek Anthropology: Geek Social Identity

Welcome to another chapter of lessons on Geek Anthropology. Today we’ll explore what Geek Social Identity is. But first, let’s think about identity as a quality that’s attributed to us as individuals by other individuals like us. Said in other words, identity depends on a social group. We need others to define part of our identity as much as we need ourselves to define our personalities. Thus, there’s no surprise in finding several identities for each person depending on the groups they are into or the situations they find themselves into. If we take a look at identity as a social process, we’ll find that there’s only identity through others. Thus, we need a community to share to find ourselves.

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Identity is a mixture of the gaze of others and the product of our own making. So, what makes me especial in front of others, and how others see me, both make my social identity. I also share characteristics with other people, and these provide ground for socialization.

So, when we are talking about geek social identity, we’re talking about the geek groups and sub-groups a person belongs to and how they form his/her identity. A great load of it is made through language. Yes, geek words are there to shape our personalities as well. The use within the geek community and sharing them into our speech make of ourselves geeks. Thus, speech takes a great role into our geek social identity.

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Fannish words are expressions. These are encoded in language. For example, if we say Bazinga to a non-geek, someone who has no idea about Sheldon, the odds are that he won’t understand anything. However, if you tell that to a geek who knows Sheldon, he will understand you quickly. You have shared ground; you’re both able to decode the word.

It is unlikely that you will use the word Bazinga with a doctor, your teacher or even your grandmother. You might use another word, or another expression to talk to them so that they will understand you. You’re now playing with different society roles, using different sets of encodings, thus showing up your different identities.

Code-switching can happen without the need of being bilingual. Geeks know that well. When having geek friends and non-geek friends around, geeks can code-switch from fanspeech to no-fanspeech in Speedlight.

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So, words make our identity as well. When using fannish geek words, we’re constructing our identity as well, and when speaking with others we’re engaging in co-creating our geek social identities.

But does a geek social identity end in how we speak? It does not. Symbols and knowledge pay a key role in defining ourselves as individuals as well as on helping others to define themselves. Think about geek fashion and geek tattoos for example. They’re statements on explaining who are we talking to. To an outsider, a Deathly Hallows tattoo might mean nothing, however to Harry Potter fans it is a great statement. The one who has the tattoo is making a statement through a symbol, that only members of the same social group will be able to decode. Hence, having the correct knowledge makes you a member of a group, someone that has certain characteristics and thus has a certain social identity. Fashion works in the same way.

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Geek social identities are flexible; they mutate in time. Groups select patterns and words and use them in different ways. Knowledge is the key to decoding the messages; shared knowledge is also the key to open the door to be a member of a certain group, thus to share a certain identity.

As we can see, geek social identities are something quite difficult to track and grasp. Think about the geek fashion you wear, your tattoos, the forums you hang on into, the friends you share your geek passions. Can you see it?


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  • Danielle Knapp

    This was so insightful. I hadn’t really thought about this before, but it’s so very true. I find myself saying things to my geeky friends that I wouldn’t say to non-geek friends.

    • Thank you! We do that quite automatically. If you’re bilingual (I am) you notice when you do it, and how your gestures and character changes along the way. But, it’s interesting how we do it also when we’re talking to Geek and non-Geek people. I find it even more amazing!

  • Kay

    It’s true. This affects how I interact with people in real life actually! When I see someone with a fandom shirt on that I know and relate to, I am automatically a bit more comfortable around that person, despite having not spoken to them yet! Love your Geek Anthropology articles Pepi, keep them coming!

    • Awww thank you! I’ll keep it going <3

  • I honestly don’t change my personality from one group of people to the next. I’m just as geeky with non-geeky people, even if they don’t “get it”. Lol. I just can’t help it! It’s WHO I AM! 😉 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

    • xDDD Good for you! 😀 😀